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By Derek Raymaker – Globe and Mail
Some call the East End, ‘the last really good opportunity in the city’ for infill
Between the dull roar of the Don Valley Parkway and the dreary strip malls of Victoria Park Avenue lie some of Toronto’s most robust and proud neighbourhoods.
A little farther east is Leslieville, straddling the formerly skid-row stretch of Queen Street East that is being transformed into a vibrant core of cafes, boutiques, and visual art studios at a hellacious pace.
The residential portion of Leslieville used to be a solidly blue-collar enclave of compact semi-detached houses, but in the past five years, it has become an attractive market for first-time buyers on a budget. Prices and renovation activity have been cranked up accordingly.
Finally, there is the Beaches, one of Toronto’s most storied neighbourhoods, and the only one in the original city of Toronto with direct access to lakeshore recreation areas without an expressway or arterial road being in the way.
A rendering of the Queen City Vinegar Lofts in the former Queen City Vinegar Co. factory. Good use is made of the brick walls and large windows of the structure at 19 River St.; glassed-in units will be added to the top.
It’s also home to ferociously proud residents, well-versed in the finer points of zoning regulations and bylaws, and their battalions of school-age children. Homeowners have given the community a West Coast flavour, unafraid of experimenting with San Francisco style architecture and maritime-themed designs and finishes.
The Beaches has acquired so much cachet that it’s boundaries have mysteriously grown to include the Upper Beaches, a real estate agents’ euphemism for those neighbourhoods along Kingston Road as far east as Victoria Park Avenue, a stretch that gets noticeably un-Beaches-like the farther east you go.
Toronto’s well-entrenched east-side neighbourhoods don’t necessarily lend themselves easily to high-rise condominiums.
Small pockets have become home to successful 10-storey-plus condos, but they’ve usually been attached to a larger redevelopment. Such is the case around the Distillery District, where four condo towers have been built surrounding the upscale multipurpose shopping and dining complex.
The east-side neighbourhoods, with their creative, upstart, never-say-die character, have proven to be a successful breeding ground for similarly inclined developers with a specific interest in infill redevelopment or loft conversions.
Streetcar Developments Inc. started converting old industrial or commercial buildings into lofts on the east side almost four years ago, and has continued to actively seek out opportunities in the area.
“Everything else in downtown Toronto has been played out [in terms of loft conversions], so logic would dictate that this area is the last really good opportunity in the city,” says Les Mallins, president of Streetcar Developments.
“These are established neighbourhoods,” he adds. “We’re not looking to go in among people who’ve been living there for years only to have a negative impact. It’s important that we make ourselves part of the community.”
Mr. Mallins is holding out a lot of hope for the successful redevelopment of the East Don Lands, a massive urban rejuvenation spearheaded by Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp. that will replace 15 deteriorating factories east of Parliament Street in what is known as Corktown. TWRC hopes to have a large public park built there by 2009, and the area will eventually boast almost 6,000 new dwellings, a recreation centre and a school.
The design of the Queen City Vinegar Lofts makes good use of the brick walls and large windows of the current four-storey structure at 19 River St., and adds another two storeys of glassed-in units.
The core of the West Don Lands’ residential component will likely come under the control of the more established high-rise developers and their standard designs, “so we’re staking out ourselves on the periphery,” Mr. Mallins says.
“The people [who] come to us – I’m not sure that they’re comparing us to other condominiums in the city,” he says. “I think they just don’t want to live in an ant farm.”
Farther east in the Beaches, Rashmi Nathwani, the principal of Namara Developments Ltd., is putting the finishing touches on the company’s North Beach project, an attractive six-storey brick-and-glass mid-rise at the corner of Main Street and Kingston Road.
“We’re definitely searching for properties” in that area, says Mr. Nathwani.
“We don’t really include a lot of amenities in these projects besides the usual party room and a common terrace,” he notes. “I feel that the real amenity is the neighbourhood.”
Perched near the top of the Kingston Road hill, the 74-suite project takes in a pleasant view of Lake Ontario below.
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